How to Grow a Mini-Meadow
A meadow provides space for wildlife such as native bees, butterflies, birds and many more. But how can you support these types of wildlife if you don’t have a lot of space? Even a mini-meadow the size of a regular garden bed can still support a great deal of beneficial wildlife—especially pollinators. Sometimes called a pollinator garden, growing a mini-meadow is a wonderful way to revitalize the life around you and help your other plants flourish. Ready to get started? Let’s dive into how you can make a mini-meadow!
Before we dive into how to make a mini-meadow, we should look at what a meadow actually is, and why you’d want to grow one.
You could think of a meadow as a mix of grasses and flowers—ideally ones that are native to your area.
The mix of both grasses and flowers is important to truly create a meadow, and not a flowerbed or a lawn.
Grasses are an important part of a meadow, because they provide shelter for beneficial critters like bumblebees.
The grasses found in meadows are often bunch grasses. These tend to play a lot nicer with other plants than turf grasses you would have in your lawn.
Plus, they’re much less likely to spread.
But the main feature of your mini-meadow is a diverse mix of flowers. While you could use any wildflowers, you will support more wildlife by selecting native flower species.
In my own mini-meadow, I have a mix of native flowers, plus other selected types that are generally recognized to be beneficial, like borage and sweet alyssum.
But in general, the more native plants you have, the more benefit you’ll add to your garden and the living world around you.
Native pollinators are adapted to the specific flower shapes, and even the timing of blooms of the native flowers they’ve evolved with.
Plus, native plants support picky insects that can only live on a select few native plants. In turn those picky insects will help feed your local songbirds.
So—putting this together, when you’re planning to grow a mini-meadow, you’ll want to look for seed mixes of native flowers that also have native grasses in the mix.
And finally, you can further enhance your new mini-meadow by adding a small snag in the middle of it! Snags provide nesting habitat for many types of native bees. This way your new mini-meadow can support native bees throughout their life cycle. So make sure to grab your free guide on how to turn a fresh snag into a home for native bees.
Growing a Mini-Meadow – Picking the Location and Preparing the Site
Meadows aren’t normally found in shady areas. You will want to pick a spot that gets full sun, though afternoon shade can be helpful in hot areas.
Once you’ve got a sunny area picked out, the next step is to prepare the area for planting.
When you grow a mini-meadow, you want to choose an area that’s open, without a lot of woody plants, like shrubs and trees.
Though if your trees or shrubs are spaced out enough to still let sunlight reach the ground, you can just plant your meadow plants around them.
Bulbs like daffodils can be part of your mini-meadow, and so can other non-woody plants like most perennial vegetables.
But in general, you will want to clear a patch in full sun and prepare it like you would a new garden bed.
Here are 6 ways you can prepare an area for planting. But instead of using mulch, you will have better luck with spreading compost or topsoil for methods like sheet-mulching. This is because the plants will grow so densely that they ultimately act as a living mulch.
One great way to prepare an area for growing a mini-meadow is to first mow it low and then spread cardboard over the area. Then just spread a nice thick layer (4 to 6 inches – 10.2 to 15.2 cm) of topsoil or compost over it. Do this in the fall, and then broadcast your native meadow seed mix over it. Next spring, you will have a new mini-meadow. Then, just sit back and enjoy the butterflies and other wildlife that will visit it!
Your mini-meadow can be as large as you want it to be, or as small as a small garden bed—say 10 feet by 5 feet (3 meters by 1.5 meters). Even smaller mini-meadows will still provide a benefit.
If you can place it near your garden or other food growing areas, you can get the added benefit of attracting pollinators and other beneficial insects to your garden. This is a great way to naturally reduce your pest issues.
Finally, make sure you prepare your new mini-meadow area in the fall if you’re wanting to direct-seed your plants. If you’re going to be planting individual plants, you’ve got a bit more options for timing. (But there are other tradeoffs.) Let’s dive into how to plant your new mini-meadow.
Planting Your Mini-Meadow
Now that you’ve got an area prepped for growing a mini-meadow, the next step is to plant it!
Grabbing a mini-meadow seed mix and broadcasting the seeds is by far the easiest and most cost-effective way to grow a mini-meadow.
Fall is the best time to plant. Late summer or fall is when seeds would drop in nature, and the seeds in your seed mix will need to lie in the ground during the wet autumn period to get established and be ready to grow in spring.
If you want to plant individual plants rather than direct-seeding, there are some pros and cons to consider. Here are your options if you want to go this route.
If you’re planting individual plants rather than direct-seeding, they will likely be plugs, bareroots, or potted plants.
Plugs and bareroots will be much cheaper than potted plants. And since you will want as diverse of a meadow as possible, potted plants aren’t going to be very cost effective.
Though plugs and bareroots tend to come in bundles of 25 or 50 plants each. This can be a challenge for growing a mini-meadow, since you want a diversity of types of plants.
The main advantage of going this route is that you have more flexibility over the timing of planting. The best time to plant is still the fall, though you can plant them in the spring.
Plants planted in the spring will likely need some watering, while fall planted plants will likely be fine—especially if you’re sticking with native plants.
Also—be careful if you used cardboard to prepare your site for planting. It will need time to break down before you start planting your individual plants.
So again, direct-seeding your plants is probably your best bet.
And if you’re using native seed mixes, then broadcasting them in the fall will get you the best results. Many native seeds need to go through a winter to germinate.
The Xerces Society has a great document all about establishing pollinator meadows from seed.
Native meadow seeds can be really small. A great way to ensure even broadcasting of these seeds is to mix your seeds with sand. Then you can broadcast the seed/sand mix either by hand or using a lawn seed broadcaster. The sand will help spread out the seeds and it will let you easily see which areas you’ve already covered.
If you’re going the seed broadcasting route, then here are some great resources to buy truly native seeds:
- In western Washington Northwest Meadowscapes has a great selection of native meadow/prairie mixes and individual seed packets of native species.
- In other areas of the United States, the Xerces Society has a list of seed mixes depending on where you’re located.
I’m afraid that if you live outside of the United States, I don’t have a ready selection of resources for you. But a good place to start is to look up local native plant organizations or conservation organizations.
These will likely be able to help you get started.
Next Steps to Growing a Mini-Meadow
Now that you’ve got your mini-meadow planted, what do you do now? Mostly you will want to step back and let your mini-meadow be.
Growing a mini-meadow is different than growing a flower patch. A meadow is going to be a wild space that will look natural, not manicured.
You can mow it once a year if you want, but the best thing to do is to leave the plants standing or cut them down so that at least a foot (30.5 cm) of the stems are still standing.
Many native bees will use these old stems for nesting. If you cut them all down to the ground, you’ll be removing their homes!
And don’t worry—native bees very rarely sting. Most are solitary. And they don’t produce honey, so they don’t worry about defending their nests. As long as you don’t grab them, they will leave you alone.
But they’re great pollinators of both wild and cultivated plants!
Come spring, all those dead stalks will be covered up by the new growth and will eventually rot and fall to the ground on their own.
And don’t forget to add snags, rocks, and even log piles to your new mini-meadow! These are all great habitat features, and adding them to your mini-meadow will enhance its ability to support wildlife.
When you grow a mini-meadow, you create space for wildlife to come and thrive. The result is that the planet is a little bit healthier through your actions. Plus, you’re also supporting many beneficial critters that will pollinate any food plants your growing, and help you deal with pests.
So what are you waiting for? Let’s grow a mini-meadow!
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